August 5, 2021

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Amazfit GTR 2 Review: Raising the Bar for Budget Smartwatches

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Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Generally speaking, budget smartwatches tend to keep things simple. You usually get one advanced feature, cheaper materials, a fuzzier display with big bezels, and a barebones companion app—basically, a fitness tracker in a smartwatch form factor. The affordable Amazfit GTR 2, however, blows up that formula.

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For $180, you get on-demand SpO2 readings, two voice assistants (Amazon Alexa and an offline assistant), 3GB of onboard music storage, built-in GPS, continuous heart rate-monitoring, abnormal heart rate alerts, 14 days of battery life, a big color touchscreen display, Bluetooth calls, and stress-tracking. I can’t emphasize enough how atypical that is for this price.

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Some of these features are things that premium flagship smartwatches that cost hundreds of dollars more have touted as major accomplishments in 2020. For example, on-demand SpO2 was the marquee feature for the Apple Watch Series 6, and also a feature that Samsung introduced with its Galaxy Watch 3. Stress-tracking is a major selling point for the Fitbit Sense, which aside from the GTR 2 is one of the only smartwatches that offers you more than one digital assistant.

When I first wrote about the GTR 2 launch, I figured there had to be a catch. As lovely as all these features sound on paper, it’s moot if the watch sucks in real life. After a little over a week of using it, I can say the GTR 2 is not perfect. There are quite a few things I don’t like. However, in terms of overall value, Amazfit’s thrown down the gauntlet. Other smartwatch makers should feel a little nervous.

Out of the box, I was a little disappointed with the GTR 2’s design. It comes in two versions: the $180 Sport Edition, and the slightly more expensive Classic Edition, which costs an even $200. The main difference is the Classic is made of nicer materials, such as a stainless steel casing and a leather strap. My review unit was the cheaper Sport Edition. I hate to say it, but the Sport Edition feels like the ugly stepsister. (That said, I prefer both iterations of the GTR 2 to the GTS 2, its sister smartwatch, which is yet another Apple Watch clone.)

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While I found the curved, 1.39-inch glass AMOLED display to be attractive and sleek, the black ceramic bezel was blah and the silicone straps made it feel chintzy. And although it’s nice that the GTR 2 is much slimmer than its predecessor, I kind of appreciated the more analog design to this bland, contemporary update. That’s my personal taste, however. If you prioritize a versatile, inoffensive design, the Sport Edition is perfectly fine.

Design aside, I love the display. It’s crisp and notifications are easy to read—something I appreciate with my horrendous eyesight. Colors are beautiful and swipes register reliably with no noticeable lag. While I don’t love the black ceramic and the straps, this display definitely feels a step above what you’d normally find for $180 and even slightly higher. (I’m looking at you, Fitbit Versa 3.)

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This “failed to measure” message popped up more often than I’d have liked.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

Most of the marquee features aren’t super new to Amazfit’s (or, more accurately, its parent company Huami’s) watches. SpO2 and stress-tracking were both included in the Zepp E, as was the 3D glass curved display. This makes sense, because the Amazfit and Zepp smartwatches both use the Zepp app. The SpO2 measurements I took largely correlated to the ones I got on the Fitbit Sense (though that tracks blood oxygen levels overnight) and the readings I got when I filched my husband’s Apple Watch Series 6.

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Stress-tracking, however, was finicky. On the one hand, you can enable all-day tracking, and the watch will periodically take a spot reading. The metric itself is based on heart rate variation—which is commonly used in other recovery-focused wearables—and you’re given a score from 0-100, with 0-30 being relaxed, 40-59 being “normal,” 60-79 being medium, and 80+ indicating high stress. I found I didn’t have much reason to initiate on-the-spot stress readings, other than to test whether the feature worked. That’s good, because you have to sit rather still for it to get a reading, and it’s pretty slow—a combination ripe for failed readings, of which I had many. Looking at my all-day stress data was marginally more useful, but I didn’t get a good sense of what the numbers really meant or what to do about elevated numbers. As far as quantitative stress-tracking goes, the Fitbit Sense does the best job so far thanks to its electrodermal sensor and focus on mindful meditation.

When it comes to more basic smartwatch features, things like music control were fine—basically what you’d expect from any smartwatch at this point. It is nice, however, that you can add 3GB of music directly onboard. That means you don’t need to take your phone with you for runs if you also want your music. You can pair Bluetooth headphones with the watch easily, and adding music is done via the companion app. This, however, only really applies if you’re the sort who still keeps individual music files. I can’t say whether transferring the files is easy, as I have long since jettisoned all my MP3 files for streaming services. If you’re hoping to download offline playlists from, say, Spotify, you’re out of luck. The same holds true for streaming directly on device, because the GTR 2 has no cellular capability.

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Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

The GTR 2’s biggest addition would be Amazon Alexa, except that’s coming as an over-the-air update eventually, so I wasn’t able to test how well it worked. Still, if Alexa is your digital assistant of choice, the GTR 2 is worth considering, because Fitbit’s the only other major smartwatch maker that natively supports Alexa at the moment. However, you get another option with an offline assistant, which is nifty considering this isn’t a cellular-capable watch. You’re limited to a pre-set collection of commands—open alarm and start a workout, for example—but the available options make sense. I was skeptical at first, but to my surprise it worked decently well and was convenient for hands-free controls. I had a little trouble consistently waking the offline assistant at first. You can choose between a few wake options, which then bring up a little blue icon signaling the assistant is listening. I chose the classic wrist raise, but it took a bit to learn how to do it correctly.

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As a fitness companion, the GTR 2 is decent. Again, the big display was much appreciated while I was running, and the watch tracked distance relatively accurately. I experienced a short lag when latching onto a GPS signal, but that’s not terribly uncommon for smartwatches. More importantly, the watch didn’t lose signal during the workout itself, which sometimes happens on cheaper watches. On a 3.28-mile run recorded by my phone, the GTR 2 logged 3.21 miles while the Apple Watch SE logged 3.1 miles. On a longer 4.05-mile run, the GTR 2 over-reported my distance as 4.36 miles while the SE recorded 3.88 miles. On a third 3.13-mile run, the GTR 2 reported 3.03 miles to the SE’s 2.94 miles. In general, the GTR 2 was in the ballpark, and there are many reasons why GPS devices worn simultaneously might vary on the same course. This sort of discrepancy isn’t abnormal—it’s just more ideal if a smartwatch is consistently “off” by roughly the same amount. (Case in point: The Watch SE always underreports my distance compared to my phone by about 0.17-0.19 of a mile.) It’s less good if a watch underreports one run, then over-reports the next, and then underreports again—much like the GTR 2 did.

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Impressively, though I forgot to end recording my strength training workout (I cannot lift for 15 hours…) it didn’t kill the battery life.
Photo: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

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Heart rate was more accurate, falling within 3-5 bpm of my Polar H10 chest strap and the Watch SE during runs, as well as in the overall heart rate charts in my activity summaries. Sleep-tracking was also decent and largely corresponded to the results I got with the Oura Ring, though the watch occasionally failed to record when my pets would wake me up in the middle of the night.

Unique to the Amazfit and Zepp watches is the PAI system for measuring activity. It’s similar to Google Fit’s heart points or Fitbit’s Active Zone Minutes, in that it assigns a certain value to workouts based on your heart rate and demographic data. The goal is to maintain at least 100 PAI over a 7-day period. It takes a little bit to get used to, but I like that it allows for more flexibility than cramming in an arbitrary number of steps or calorie burn per day.

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Screenshot: Victoria Song/Gizmodo

More annoying is the Zepp app. I’ve complained about it before, but the short version is that it’s not very intuitively designed. Historical data and settings are buried in hard-to-find menus, and there are some blatant mistakes. For instance, even though I set my unit measurements to Imperial, my splits times were for kilometers—as you can see in the screenshot. I don’t want to do math, so that’s frustrating. Also, when breaking down heart rate zones, one of the categories was labeled in Chinese. I can intuit that it’s the “second highest” heart rate zone, but it’s still sloppy.

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The one area where the GTR 2 really stands out is battery life. You get about 14 days of estimated usage, and in practice, I got roughly 10 days. That’s probably because I used the always-on display for a day, and yes, it’s a significant drain. Plus, I did about 1.5 hours of GPS exercise. Perhaps most impressively, I forgot to end a strength training session one day and didn’t notice until 15 hours later. I was surprised, but my snafu didn’t significantly zap the battery at all.

Basically, the GTR 2 does a lot for a good price, but some of the features are a little rough around the edges. That’s fine—you’re bound to make some compromises for savings. If I were to compare the GTR 2 to flagship smartwatches, then it falls short, despite offering some advanced features. But that’s not really a fair comparison. When you compare the GTR to “budget” offerings—the Fitbit Versa 3 or the Apple Watch SE, for example—it’s a different story. For instance, the only thing the Versa 3 really has over the GTR 2 is NFC payments and a better app. It’s also $30-$50 more expensive, not including the Fitbit Premium subscription. The GTR 2 has some more advanced health features, comparable accuracy, a much nicer display, and longer battery life. It’s a bit different with the Watch SE, which has cellular options, a third-party app ecosystem, and NFC payments. Even so, the GTR 2 is $100-$150 less than the 40mm SE. The GTR 2 also arguably has a nicer aesthetic for people who prefer round watches, the display is more readable, the offline assistant is more useful than bumbling Siri, it has SpO2 and stress-tracking, and again, much longer battery life.

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For a budget smartwatch, the GTR 2 delivers the best bang for your buck. The only thing you really have to decide is whether you’re happy to give up third-party apps, contactless payments, and possibly more polished software. If you are, then this smartwatch should definitely be on your shortlist.

README

  • A $180 smartwatch that’s sleek, features SpO2 readings and stress-tracking, two digital assistants, abnormal heart rate alerts, and a big beautiful display.
  • Missing NFC, cellular, music-streaming service compatibility (though it has 3GB of onboard storage for offline playlists), and a third-party app ecosystem, but it’s a fair compromise for savings.
  • 14-day battery life!!!!
  • Good fitness-tracking, though the Zepp app is still a little rough.
  • It’s not perfect, but for this price, you’re getting a lot.

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